Personal Statement: Why I Love Rick's

Monday, April 4, 2016 - 8:50pm

.

Illustration by Samuel Bertin

 

Close your eyes and envision a moment in the place you most enjoy. A space where you feel utterly happy, free and liberated, where you can unequivocally be yourself, free from judgment or insecurity. You catch yourself gazing wistfully around. Taking in the moment, you breathe, exhale, belong, feel alive — like the cosmos and the stars created this moment just for you.

Nestled in the basement of a dark, damp college bar, I feel those moments at Rick’s.

And in those moments my skin is warm and my heart booms. The feeling’s powerful, yet it’s completely mine — meaningful, strange and goofy without being overly sappy.

Those moments are like one on the Rick’s stage the week before Christmas. Someone hands me a Santa cap and I put it on, squat down by a black pole and pose with it, grimacing. They’re screaming the lyrics to “Anaconda” and hopping onto a stage. They’re taking pictures of my friends that turn out so weird my lungs grasp for air as I scream from laughing.

I love Rick’s, and everyone that knows me knows it. In some ways, it’s obvious why I’d love a space that exists for people to have fun.

Yet my love digs deeper, translucent and difficult to articulate.    

***

Freshman year was incredibly difficult for me. I struggled to find a group on campus where I belonged.

It wasn’t always that people were mean or awful; I met some people I still consider friends. But as I was around different crowds of people, I found myself unable to find a group that entirely meshed with my personality. It’s hard to explain why or how, but it was in the subtleties where I felt I was on a different wavelength than people around me.

My humor (and entire personality) is formed on a foundation of utter irony, stupidity and lightheartedness. In my personal life, I take almost nothing seriously.

One time I saw a child running away from his mom on the street. As the mom chased him down, screaming for him to come back, I muttered “me” under my breath. I laughed at the thought of being a small child running aimlessly and dangerously.

Another time I took screenshots of Justin Bieber’s album picture where he holds a sign saying, “What do you mean?” I started using it as a meme, texting people it when I disapproved of or was confused by something going on in life. I started seeking out confusing moments to send the screenshot. I think it’s so stupid and funny that I can’t stop.

No one laughed at the weird things that I did, and so I felt like no one was connecting with me.

The isolation always came to a head on Friday nights as I went to parties with different groups.

I’d head out to frat houses, and we’d step into the dark basements. I wasn’t close with anyone at these parties, and being gay, I was only further separated. Each night I watched the guys split up to find girls, while my girl friends were chatted up by frat guys who offered them drinks.

I just wanted to be goofy and do weird things and laugh. But that never happened.

Drops of sweat would rain down my face as I’d realize the basement’s heat. It was caused by the energy of everyone dancing, moving, talking, hooking up. Everyone seemed to be having fun, like they were in a rhythm that I wasn’t. Linked by a mutually understood tick much like the music’s beat.

I moved my body as I circled the area, trying to join the tick. But as I kept circling I realized how out of synch I was compared to everyone else.

Tick. A group of frat guys in white shirts and backwards caps laugh together with beer in their hands. They’re in the same frat and clearly don’t wanna talk to me. Tick. A group of girls asks a guy for his handle of Crystal Palace. They all laugh as he hands it to them. He definitely doesn’t want me interrupting. Tick. Someone I know puts his hands on his girlfriend’s hips, as they look at each other, starstruck. Tick.

After an hour my heart would sink too low and I’d feel all alone and I’d race out to escape those parties. I’d take the bus to my Bursley dorm. I laid in bed unable to sleep. With opened eyes, crinkled toes and a broken spirit, thoughts bounced around my mind, unwilling to stop.

I wondered why this was happening to me, why I bumped shoulders with hundreds of people yet was unable to tell one I wasn’t OK. That I was lost and increasingly ashamed of who I was, undervalued and shoved to the side.

I left freshman year aching but with a goal: sophomore year would be better.

In the all-sophomore dorm of Stockwell I found other people who had bad freshman years and were looking for people that understood them. Then I joined The Michigan Daily, where I found writers who understood my weird wit. Junior year I joined a general honors fraternity, where I found a group of goofballs interested in joining a fraternity with no specialization but looking for a home.

All of these years, friends and memories were meaningful, but Rick’s is the culmination of all of them.

Contrary to popular belief, I don’t believe Rick’s is equivalent to a frat basement. My friends rarely get hit on, and I can see almost anyone there.

That’s why Rick’s is special to me: it acts as a vessel to see people who I really love in an environment where I can be myself.

As I squat, hop, groove, yell, pose and make weird memories with my friends, I feel liberated. There, I’m allowed to tick in whatever rhythm I like, and I’m synchronized with each beat.

I see a group of girls I adore and give them the fiercest hug. I yell a random inside joke, and they smile. Tick. My friend sees her ex-boyfriend and we yell, “What is the truth!”  — my favorite weird phrase — and laugh. Tick. My friends gather around to dance to “Anaconda.” Tick. I close my eyes and belong and feel invincible as I clench my fists, nod my head and sway my hips.

Tick.

***

As the school year ends, many of my friends one year younger are turning 21 and going to Rick’s for the first time. They tell me they have to see me there, and I excitedly tell them I’ll do anything to be with them on their special night.

Your first time at Rick’s can be very nerveracking. You’ve never been there before, your friends may not be 21 and you may have yet to find your tick in college. That last one scares me the most — because it’s so easy to feel alone and tell no one.

That’s why I want to be with my friends for their first time in Rick’s, so they have someone they feel comfortable with by their side.

And it’s one of the best parts of Rick’s. I love seeing a new friend in a space I’m so fond of. As I grab their hand and tug them to the stage, I just want to be goofy and make them smile. As I see them acclimating to the space, I can sense their tick, like the faint pulse of a heartbeat. A reaffirmation that whatever’s going on with them, this space can give them some sense of community. It can make them smile, even if outside those walls life seems dark.

That’s why I love Rick’s; it’s my space, and because of that, I want it to be everyone else’s too.